As part of the UM System Healthy for Life program for UMKC faculty and staff, health psychologist Lynn Rossy presented ways to use mindfulness to alleviate stress, pursue a healthier lifestyle and be more productive. Tuesday’s presentation was part of a ten-week program that helps participants have a healthy relationship with food.
For many people, stress can lead to weight gain and other health issues, whether due to poor eating habits or lack of activity. Mindfulness is about living in the present moment, and it can help one respond more skillfully with larger perspective.
“If I could teach someone only one thing, it would be breathing,” said Rossy.
Focusing on the breath, especially the exhale, engages the parasympathetic nervous system, which counteracts the stress hormone cortisol. This method of breathing can counteract the body’s negative physical reaction to stress.
Rossy’s “Eat For Life” program is both on campus in Columbia and online as part of an effort to help faculty and staff learn to manage stress, develop mindfulness-based strategies for healthier eating habits and stay active.
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“There is no faster way to be unhappy than to think that you have to be perfect.”
During the two-hour presentation, Rossy pointed out that much of the stress that is experienced today comes from trying to make static a universe that is constantly changing. People decide how things are rather than experiencing the actual reality, and that is when struggles with life occur. This lack of presence with “how things are” can negatively impact personal relationships
Students can benefit from the same strategies Rossy offers in the Eat For Life program, such as carving out space to breathe and pursuing a healthy, balanced lifestyle through increased awareness. Though the formal program is available exclusively to faculty and staff, students can access the content on Rossy’s website, tastingmindfulness.com. Rossy’s strategies can be adopted by anyone, and she did have some specific advice for students, who may struggle being out on their own for the first time.
“Beginning to incorporate self-care techniques is really important,” she said.
Rossy recommends consistently getting enough sleep (7-8 hours) and carving out time for pleasant activities. Choose to eat quality food instead of junk that is highly processed and has little or no nutritional value. Pay attention to how it feels to eat those items versus wholesome, nourishing foods.
Rossy emphasized being mindful about attitude. Learning to let go of perfectionism helps some, and recognizing the fear of failure that is at the root of procrastination could help others.
“There is no faster way to be unhappy than to think that you have to be perfect,” said Rossy, who began her own personal and professional journey in mindfulness in 1993, shortly after finishing her doctorate at the University of Missouri.
Basic, small changes such as such as eating slowly , taking a break to walk every hour or just learning to be attentive to routine activities can have a huge impact on overall health.
“Meanwhile, improving awareness of the breath allows us to be in each moment,” said Rossy. “And those moments are your life.”